Small farms are much more interesting than large ones, take for example my SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant FNC20-1224 as a look into 5 ranchers who want to improve their knowledge about regenerative practices and soil health. We want to preserve our farm soils, feed ourselves and sell the rest in a way that will leave our ranches resilient to climate change, enhance our lives, lower our inputs and generally make our lives better. We may not be ready to sell carbon credits but we are learning how to create them in an up-close and personal way.
We are looking at soil health, return of biology to damaged soil, succession plants and improved habitat for predator and pollinator insects by gathering an inventory of species present. That is a great deal of research to cram into a two year study. As women ranchers, we find that building resilience to any future "problems" is our heritage and culture.
The five of us are super-involved in all aspects of our tiny ranches! From feeding the poultry, milking cows and goats to data entry on livestock production and finances to watching our families grow; we are involved. There are no department managers, our "team meetings" are during meals and kisses goodbye to make sure things get done while we are away at other jobs and tasks and thanking the spouse who is willing to take care of "it".
"It" is about making sure our soils are in good health. We are growing cover crops by over-seeding them into perennial pastures. We are catching insects over the test plots and identifying them. We are using a field test which tells us how much carbon remains in the soil with proper grazing and another test which measures the fungus to bacteria ratios. We are taking soil samples to the lab to find out the level of biological activity; we want to properly care for our tiny subterranean livestock-the mycorrhizae.
Free ecoservices are great. The tiny subterranean livestock communicate with each other to care for the forages growing in the test plots plus they improve water infiltration and nutrient cycling. We did not even have to ask or force them to do this job with synthetic inputs, just add cover crops. The mycorrhizae feed themselves and colonize to maximize water/ nutrient intake of the plants and gain shelter in the root exudates. Our plants are great for grazing, are not as susceptible to invasive insect damage even though our insect identification shows by numbers they are present. Our soil health numbers have gone up and we feel that the fungus to bacteria number will improve as we continue into the second year of data collection.
Regenerative practices of adaptive grazing and broadcasting cover crops over perennials are low cost and easy to do. With high hopes for improved numbers in soil health we love getting freee ecoservices.